This post develops an argument begun here. It deploys an analytical device used by Michael Walzer in his article 'The Four Wars of Israel / Palestine', though in a different way. In borrowing the device from him, I make no claim that Walzer would endorse what I go on to say.
Obviously, the war in Iraq may be treated as a single conflict, just in the same way as we speak of much larger wars as unitary events (the Second World War, for example). But that doesn't prevent us from analytically breaking down the different dimensions of the conflict. If we do so, certain rather familiar ways of assigning responsibility for it - I have in mind, particularly, the blaming of pretty much everything on the Coalition - appear in a rather different light.
The first war for Iraq (within the time frame 2003-4) was that fought by the US-led alliance in March-April 2003. It was a regime-change war, notwithstanding the WMD justification proffered by those leading it; for WMD reasons and other reasons it was fought in order to remove the Baathist regime. In the face of gloomy predictions of quagmire from those who opposed this war, it was over in a matter of weeks, with Saddam and his cronies gone from power, and in hiding.
The second war for Iraq took off in the weeks and months that followed. Seen by those in the West who support it as a (legitimate) war of resistance, but known more commonly merely as an 'insurgency', from the start its objective has been to foil the plans of the US and its allies in Iraq; and from the start its methods have included the targeting of civilians, off-duty and merely would-be policemen, aid workers, Red Cross and UN personnel, foreigners, and so on. It has killed Iraqis, destroyed infrastructure and tried to prevent its rebuilding, and had the clear objective of spreading insecurity and chaos.
The US and its allies are not responsible for this second war - unless you simply assume its legitimacy in advance as a just struggle against foreign invaders. However, it has been plain from early on that a substantial component of this struggle has been the work of Baathist remnants and foreign jihadis. Even supposing as an abstract normative possibility that there might have been a just cause of resisting foreign aggression, this 'insurgency' was something different: old regime elements responding to their recent demise; and foreign Islamists who, whatever else they're after, have given no evidence of an interest in Iraqi self-determination. And in both cases, these were political forces entirely careless of the norms of just war (jus in bello) and humanitarian law. In situations of war, one side is not responsible for the criminal acts of the other.
Furthermore, early poll and other evidence pointed to the fact that whatever reservations some Iraqis may have had about a liberation from Saddam brought about by external invasion, a majority of them were glad to see Saddam gone and looked forward to the benefits of a transition to democracy in Iraq. This puts the assumption (introduced as an abstract possibility in the previous paragraph) that the 'insurgency' was a just resistance struggle further in question. It ran against the hopes and allegiances of most Iraqis. Even if it is true, consequently, that the mistakes and crimes on the Coalition side (lack of post-invasion planning, the brutalities at Abu Ghraib) have had the effect of swelling the ranks of the insurgents, it is also the case that failure to stabilize the country, end the continuing violence and insecurity, and bring about a transition to democratic self-rule in Iraq is crucially due to the activities of Baathist and jihadi forces. The whole responsibility for this cannot sensibly be laid at the door of the US and Britain. Unless one is willing to credit absurd conspiracy theories, were it not for the activities of the insurgents, there would not be the disorder there now is in Iraq.
The third war is the war that has been fought by the Coalition since the fall of the Saddam regime to bring stability to the country and to ensure a transition to sovereign and preferably democratic Iraqi self-rule via (in the first instance) the holding of national elections. Of necessity this war has had to be fought against those waging the second war. One might have thought that, whatever reasons opponents of what I have called the first war had for opposing it, they ought to have been in tune with these objectives. But because of the way in which blame is standardly assigned in the anti-war camp, with the Coalition always taking the main or only hit, it - the Coalition - is seen as responsible for the fact that stabilization and democratic transition haven't happened yet or aren't likely to.
This, however, ignores the fact that there is a fourth war for Iraq (or if you prefer a greater economy, leave it at three, since this fourth one is another face of the second war). It is the war being fought to ensure that democratic elections cannot be held in secure conditions, and its methods have it written all over them that a democratic Iraq is not what it is about. Supporters of, and apologists for, the insurgents are in the habit of arguing that the beheaders and the blowers-up don't define the character of the 'resistance' as a whole. Perhaps they don't; but the 'resistance' as a whole has not notably brought these elements into line. Strangely, those who are willing to characterize the entire US war effort as if the crimes at Abu Ghraib typified it are more indulgent towards the forces fighting against the US and its allies.
In sum, those in the anti-war camp often argue as if there wasn't actually a war going on - the real conflict on the ground being displaced in their minds by the argument between themselves and supporters of the war. Everything is the fault of those who took the US and its allies into that war and, secondarily, those who supported or justified this.
Except it isn't. As I said in the earlier post, the war has two sides. One counter-argument here is likely to be that those who initiate an unjust war are responsible for everything they unleash. But first, this begs the question. Much of the case for the war's being unjust was that it would have bad consequences. Yet, many of those bad consequences are the responsibility of forces prosecuting a manifestly unjust war - in both its objectives and its methods - on the other side. Secondly, it's simple casuistry in assessing the responsibilities of two sides in a military conflict to load everything on to one of the sides - even where the blame for having begun an unjust and aggressive war is uncontroversial. Were the Japanese themselves responsible for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Adolf Hitler was responsible for many terrible crimes during the Second World War. But the fire bombing of Dresden? This is all-or-nothing thinking.
To end where I began, with Michael Walzer: 'The great simplifiers are hard at work...'